|Photo: The Financial|
29.10.2012. “The occupancy rate at the Sheraton Metechi Palace Hotel is more than 80 percent over the whole year. This has been the best year for the Hotel,” claims Andreas Heidingsfelder, General Manager at the Sheraton Metechi Palace. “More and more tourists are coming to the country and luckily many of them stay with us,” he told The Financial last week.
Q. From your point of view, how will the recent change of government influence the hotel business?
A. We can’t say for sure yet, but we will soon see. Leisure tourism has been going up over the past several years as a result of the country’s politics. The government has been actively promoting Georgia as a country for tourists to enjoy. I hope that this trend continues.
Q. What were the Hotel’s occupancy dynamics during the election period?
A. Our occupancy rate during this period was slightly higher. There was an increase in demand but we already had many bookings from leisure tourists and corporate guests, so we couldn’t take too many extra bookings on top of those.
Q. What are the major strategies and directions of the Sheraton Tbilisi ? How have the strategies and marketing directions changed since you became Manager of the Hotel?
A. The Sheraton Metechi Palace Hotel’s marketing strategies and directions are set, as we have been in the market for more than 20 years. They are generally fixed to the Georgian market. We must follow the actual marketing situation though. Local market changes directly influence our directions. We are focusing on leisure business, tourism and of course corporate business, but we have to adjust our strategies according to the changes in the country. For example, MICE business development shows potential in Georgia and our hotel has and is developing and updating facilities for it. But the main focus on increasing occupancy and service quality is maintained in any case.
Q. What are the Hotel’s room prices? Do you offer any special discounts? Do you think that the prices you offer are reasonable?
A. Official Sheraton prices vary from USD 230 going up to USD 740 depending on the room type category as well the period of the year. The Hotel also has special corporate contracts based on loyal and fruitful relationships with our clients. In addition we propose special packages and promotional prices as well as having a very attractive price structure for long-stay guests as we do have several serviced apartments.
In my opinion the current prices could be better. In 2009 and 2010 occupancy was low and it resulted in our reducing prices. Now demand is growing and therefore prices will grow as well.
Q. Do you predict there will be any change in prices?
A. Prices are budgeted for the next years based on the general market’s forecasted situation and previous year’s experience as well as new hotel facilities and services. Any changes will of course be taking in to consideration the market changes and be flexible for our customers.
Still I believe that hotel prices will increase in the future. The supply is not dramatically increasing unlike the demand. This may cause a raise in prices as demand is always growing.
Q. How would you evaluate the hotel market in Tbilisi ?
A. We monitor the market very carefully. Sheraton has several international competitors. Competing with others is always interesting and this is healthy competition, but we are not competing in terms of price, rather we compete with the high-quality services that are offered. As far as I know, several international brands are entering Tbilisi and Batumi. This will make the competition more interesting. But I do believe that the occupancy rate at Sheraton Hotels will remain high in any case. Sheraton puts a lot of emphasis on securing certain business segments which are actually dedicated to our brand. Besides, we are always looking to new, different customer layers which could also be attracted by our product.
Q. How many guests did you host in 2012? Are they generally business travellers or leisure tourists?
A. Sheraton hosts more than 25,000 customers per year if just speaking about accommodation. But the Hotel also hosts banquets, seminars, conferences, has restaurants and a bar, and including these we have almost 70,000 visitors a year. So in total, we host more than 110,000 visitors per year.
Sheraton Tbilisi is oriented predominantly on the business customer segment. We recently experienced different segmentations due to changes in demand. We are currently noting an increase in the arrival of leisure travellers in Georgia. These figures are very much dependent on the time of year, as in the summer the percentage of leisure travellers reaches 40 percent, while in the off-season for leisure tourism the ratio remains 80 percent to 20 percent.
Q. From which country do you host the majority of guests?
A. The majority of guests at the Sheraton are from the USA, UK, Turkey, Germany, France and Italy. We also have a lot of customers from CIS countries.
Q. In your opinion, in the short-term, what activities should be conducted to increase the number of tourists in Georgia?
A. The Georgian Government has adopted the right strategy and is trying to promote Georgia in all possible markets, advertising in the global media, creating and showing an image of a stable, interesting, exciting and ancient country and thereby developing the tourism market. Georgia’s infrastructure and currently-available facilities that have been developed in the country already create a memorable experience for those travellers who are visiting Georgia. To facilitate and maintain the volume of international tourists these areas should be constantly developed to international standards.
Q. How many people are currently employed at the Hotel? How much attention do you pay to the motivation as well as professional growth of your staff?
A. We currently have 151 full-time and 30 non-permanent, on-call employees. We believe that our associates are the main assets for our company.
We pay very high attention to motivating our associates. Starwood Hotels and Resorts believe that motivated and engaged staff is key to success in the hospitality business. We have special reward and recognition programmes like employee of the month and year, smile of the month and year, thank-you letters, staff incentive programmes and promotion of employees internally in the Hotel as well as in the company.
Trainings are provided in each department. Every associate has the possibility for cross trainings with in the other departments. Associates are given opportunities to experience and share their knowledge in sister hotels.
Q. How much attention does the Hotel pay to protecting the environment?
A. Sheraton is continuously evaluating ways to reduce its environmental impact in the community of Tbilisi . The initial aim is to build awareness amongst our associates in order to start them thinking along ‘green lines’ and be able to support green initiatives by the hotel management.
Sheraton Metechi Palace Hotel supported the international “walk to school month” to raise the awareness of citizens and our associates in supporting a safe and healthy walking initiative. We joined the worldwide campaign “Clean up the World! Clean Up Georgia!”. Clean Up actions in the regions were carried out in each administrative district centre with the support of local governments and CSOs. Sheraton is the first company which has joined the WWF Global Project “Earth Hour” in Georgia, which it has been doing since 2009. We are happy that many companies have now started joining this wonderful green initiative to send out a powerful message about saving the planet. Our Sheraton team joined the Green Office of CENN by handing thousands of recycled papers to them to support green initiatives by the hotel management and to protect our environment.
Q. Do you implement any energy efficiency projects?
A. Sheraton Metechi Palace has organized Green Council, which is permanently working on new projects offered by Starwood Hotels through the sustainability resource centre where we share the best practices for safety or the projects invented and implemented by us.
We have an auditor working for us who does an inspection of our energy costs and gives us consultations on how to save energy.
We are currently working on a project called “30/20 by 20 (Energy & Water) Maximum Commitment to Minimal Impact”. 30/20 by 20 is our promise to accomplish a 30% reduction in energy usage and a 20% reduction in water usage by 2020.